Helping online shoppers navigate complex buying decisions may help ecommerce retailers improve conversion rates, reduce returns, and earn loyal, repeat shoppers.
Guided selling is a form of product recommendation to make product suggestions and provide product information based on both statistical data and on asking shoppers specific questions related to the product or how the product will be used.
Guided selling solution providers report significant increases in conversation rates — up to 70 percent depending on product category — improvements in return rates, additional cross selling opportunities, and improved customer shopping experiences.
What Is Guided Selling?
In the ecommerce context, guided selling describes a software tool that asks shoppers questions about product features and usage, to make specific product recommendations.
Guided selling should:
- Understand a shopper’s needs;
- Make sense of those needs relative to available products and inventory;
- Recommend specific products to meet the shopper’s needs;
- Provide information to help the shopper feel confident about the purchase.
The guided selling solution will frequently take the form of a product-related questionnaire. An example, a kayak finder, can be found on the West Marine website. This kayak guide first asks the shopper if he will be kayaking alone or with someone.
The shopper’s choice — a solo or tandem kayak — initiates a product recommendation path. Shoppers are asked about experience level, how the kayak will be stored, and how it will be used.
At nearly any point in the questioning process, shoppers can get more information about a feature or a choice.
Ultimately the questionnaire leads to a specific product recommendation.
Complex Decisions vs. Complex Products
Guided selling’s main purpose is to help shoppers make relatively complex buying decisions. Put another way, the emphasis is on complex decisions, not necessarily complex products.
“Complex products are those having many features and functions, or those for which a large amount of information must be communicated to the purchaser in support of the purchase decision. Products that are new to the market and thus require more study by the consumer before deciding to purchase can also be categorized as complex,” explained IBM’s Robin Schwartz in a 2005 interview about IBM’s enterprise guided selling solution.
“A complex decision is one that requires a lot of knowledge about how to use a product — how it fits into my lifestyle — what are the other products that complement it.”
As an example, retailer Luna Sandals‘ guided solution is not really helping shoppers with a complex product, but rather the complexities of how different sandals could impact lifestyle or enjoyment. Effectively, the selling guide is providing context, putting the products into terms shoppers will understand.
“Barbeque grills are another good example,” said IBM’s David Lebowitz, who also took part in the 2005 interview mentioned above. “I went to a web store and the product attribute said, ‘600 square inch cooking surface.’ That means nothing to me. Another store said, ‘Cooking surface sufficient for 45 burgers.’ That means something to me. Another country may have different cultural context and state the cooking surface based upon the amount of fish that can be cooked at the same time.”
Lebowitz’s point is that context can make all of the difference in a buying experience. So successful guided selling solutions are less about product specifications and more about context and lifestyle. Guided selling doesn’t necessarily seek to make products seem less complex, but rather to make complex buying decisions easier.
Benefits of Guided Selling
From the ecommerce retailer’s perspective, a successful guided selling solution should have at least four benefits.
- Improved ecommerce conversion rates. Helping shoppers make good buying decisions may boost both immediate sales and sales from shoppers who are mostly convinced, but need to wait or just need more time. For these shoppers, having a bookmark in the selling guide can be a big help.
- Fewer product returns. Guided selling should give shoppers a better understanding of how a product is used, thus reducing returns. Some reports indicate that guided selling might reduce product returns by 10 percent.
- More and better cross selling opportunities. Guided selling makes it possible to recommend product groups based on the customer’s needs. So not just a kayak, but a way to store it, too.
- Satisfied customers. Guided selling should provide shoppers with a positive ecommerce experience and a desire to return. This should be similar to how a good interaction with a sales associate at a physical store is likely to make you want to go back to the store in the future.
Weighing Implementation Costs
As effective as guided selling might seem, it may not make sense for every ecommerce business.
The process of defining product selection paths and questions can be labor intensive. Done correctly, an online store should collect customer feedback, track and monitor frequently asked questions, and build a list of possible questions for the guided selling solution.
Just about every question will need to be mapped to a definable, objective product attribute. If you ask a potential kayak buyer if she has a lot of room to store the kayak, and that shopper says “no,” you should presumably limit kayak recommendations to short kayaks or kayaks that can breakdown for storage.
Once the guide questions are defined, you will need to test them to ensure that the solution is actually helping customers.
The guided solution may also need to be integrated with other product recommendation tools to get the best possible results. And it will need to be integrated with your ecommerce platform, so at least some development work could be required.
In short, guided selling could help your business. But you will need to weigh the time it takes to set up and integrate a solution against your resources and goals.